It’s that time of year again: the time for hand-wringing about the way Major League Baseball selects its All-Star position players. Is there a way beyond all the gnashing of teeth about the alleged silliness of fan voting, stuffing the (virtual) ballot box, and so on? Maybe not. But there are more objective methods of measuring overall player value available to the public than in the past. Bloggers have come up with some ingenious suggestions for using multiple seasons or even full-blown projections to generate “true talent” All-Star teams, but let’s take a more simple approach using FanGraphs’ implementation of Wins Above Replacement to see what players have been the most valuable at each position in the league so far this season (as of June 22).
Joe Mauer is having a good season (if slightly disappointing for him) and just barely squeaks ahead of Victor Martinez. Mauer’s teammate Justin Morneau, on the other hand, is having a season even Albert Pujols would be proud of. Robinson Cano is stepping out from the shadows of more celebrated Yankees by having a dominant season at the plate and being above average in the field. Marco Scutaro is having a well-rounded season at shortstop, even if his presence is also a testimony to the relative weakness at that position in the American League this season.
This is about what we’ve come to expect from Evan Longoria, and given that he is only partially through his third season, that we have such high expectations for him says as much about him as any other superlatives. Fellow Ray Carl Crawford is having a good year even by his lofty standards, and Alex Rios, coming off a disastrous 2009, looks like one of the best outfielders in baseball. Two Rangers round out the All-WAR AL All-Stars: Josh Hamilton is the third outfielder mostly on the strength of his recent offensive outburst, and Vladimir Guerrero still has enough left in the tank to outhit the rest of the primary DHs in the AL.
There isn’t as much competition among the NL catchers, and Brian McCann is clearly the class of that group this season. Adrian Gonzalez, not surprisingly, is a major part of the Padres’ current revival. Chase Utley is having a down season relative to his usual standard, but it’s more than enough to be the best second baseman in the National League. Troy Tulowitzki is currently leading all NL shortstops but is also out for a couple of months, and Hanley Ramirez is right behind him at 2.2 WAR. Ryan Zimmerman is having another excellent year behind the veil of Strasburg mania. Marlon Byrd is playing less like the stopgap everyone thought he would and more like, well, an All-Star. Matt Holliday is the second best outfielder so far in the National League; despite not really having heated up with the bat yet, UZR is impressed with his glovework (in a small sample size).
The big surprise on the WAR leaderboards is the Giants’ Andres Torres, a capable player, but not someone one would have seen as an All-Star before this season, in which he has played well on both sides of the ball. There aren’t any “primary DHs” in the National League, of course, but Albert Pujols has been the most valuable hitter in the National League other than Gonzalez so far, and really, it would be laughable to have an All-Star Game without the best player in baseball, wouldn’t it?
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